The raw musical impact of Elvis Costello's early albums has been blunted in recent years by his increasingly precious songwriting and questionable forays into other genres, such as the morose chamber music of 1993's The Juliet Letters.
Re-teaming with the Attractions, the backing band on many of his most vital recordings, and Armed Forces producer Nick Lowe, Costello attempts to recapture the caustic stance of his Brutal Youth. In some respects, the album is a reinvigorated return to form, although it never quite lives up to admittedly heightened expectations. The single, "13 Steps Lead Down," is a headlong throwback to "(The Angels Want to Wear My) Red Shoes," while "20% Amnesia" and "Sulky Girl" could be outtakes from This Year's Model. With their punchy hooks, a sharper-than-ever drum sound and Costello's sputtering vocals, you'd swear it was 1977 again.
But on tracks such as "This is Hell," verbiage replaces vitriol, and with "Still Too Soon to Know" and "Favourite Hour" he becomes enmeshed in meandering, middle-of-the-road melodies. As Costello croons on the latter, "Now theres a tragic waste of brutal youth."